A fuel that burns cleanly, is easily biodegradable, and dissolves in water – this is methanol, a fuel we are going to be hearing a lot more about in future. It is already used as a component in everything from paints to plastics and polyester; now, its advantages as a sustainable vehicle fuel are increasingly being recognised. Advanced fuel design and innovative processes are making methanol greener and cheaper than ever.
Why is methanol seen as such a good alternative fuel?
It has multiple sources
Methanol can be made from a number of different sources. This is good news in terms of energy security because it means that no single producer or owner of resources can corner the market, making sudden shortages or price spikes unlikely. For organisations operating key transport vehicles, such as buses, this stability of supply is important.
Methanol is most commonly produced from natural gas; however, it can also be produced from renewables, including biomass, and any item that is now or was previously a plant. It can even be made from recycled carbon dioxide!
It produces fewer emissions
Methanol’s great advantage is that it burns cleanly, which means that vehicles using it produce a much lower level of emissions. The pollution in large cities is caused by sulphur oxides, particulates and nitrogen oxides and has been shown to have severe impacts on health, particularly in children. For above-ground urban transportation systems and for individuals commuting into cities by car, the use of methanol or a methanol mix has the potential to markedly improve air quality.
Methanol is high octane
Fuels need to be acceptable to consumers – no one wants a new fuel that delivers poorer performance, such as sluggish acceleration. As methanol is a high octane fuel, it can provide excellent power and acceleration and help vehicles to perform more efficiently.
Economical in use
Consumers will find that methanol is priced competitively with diesel and petrol. This is because it can be produced and distributed at a very similar cost level. It does not need high levels of government subsidy to encourage its use.
It is already a proven fuel worldwide
Innovations in fuel design mean that blends of methanol with other fuels are already widely used around the world. China has over 100 million vehicles being used for transporting passengers and is the largest user of methanol in vehicle fuels. This is good news for global warming worldwide.
Methanol has global availability
Methanol is in the top five when it comes to chemical commodities being shipped globally each year. It has the enormous advantage that it can be stored and distributed through existing infrastructure without the need for new terminals, pipework and so on.
A catalytic route for methanol production using bio-renewable materials has recently been developed. With new catalysts and processes being trialed and refined, this is undoubtedly an exciting time for methanol fuel design.